When your therapist is unwell.

My session last night wasn’t what I needed.

I don’t know what is was that I did need, but whatever it was, I didn’t get it.

As Sienna sat down and we said our Hello’s I could tell she wasn’t well. She said she had a heavy cold and that she’d actually swithered about texting me to tell me. I’m not sure whether she meant to cancel the session or to give me the choice of coming and risking catching her germs!

I asked her how she was feeling and she said she was fine while she was dosed up on paracetamol but when it started wearing off, she could feel her temperature rising a bit. Her voice was husky, and I could tell she was pretty loaded with the cold.

We chatted easily about random things that are happening at this time of year, with the kids now finishing school for the summer. We got onto the topic of my experience of school and the transition between primary school to high school. And that led to talking about what life was like for me back then. It’s never easy to go there. I cried. I felt the pain and loneliness of that time.

I was able to tell her about my flashback the other night, about remembering what it was like to not have access to my mum, that she would go away for two weeks at a time (Because she lived far away) and she’s visit for a few hours and then drop me home and the feeling as she drove away was one of grief, pain, fear, longing and heavy doom. But I never showed it. I never cried. But I missed my mum, I missed my old life when she still lived with me. I missed the familiarity and routine we used to have. I missed her smell, her perfume, her laugh. I missed her just being there. The home we used to live in was just a shell now. A house, but not a home. It always felt like the life and air just left and it felt perpetually empty. Just like me.

Sienna immediately linked it to how I feel when she goes away. She asked if it’s the same feelings? I nodded.

I always knew my difficulties with Sienna’s breaks were related to attachment stuff and my childhood experiences but I knew it in a rather generic sense. But this flashback I’d had, helped me remember and relive how it felt to watch my mother, my sense of home, my compass, just drive away.

Don’t get me wrong, my mother was not perfect, she had problems of her own. She abandoned her kids and left the country. She was unattuned and disorganised herself and at times dissociated. Sienna reckons she sounds like she struggled with BPD and certainly that would fit. Perhaps if she’d stayed she’d have done more damage, though I doubt it. Because the chaos that ensued afterwards for her was probably what triggered her the most. Marriage and kids had tethered her, given her stability which in turn made her a bit more stable. Without that construct, she just flapped in the wind, she created chaotic scenarios, she indulged her inner teenager, she became selfish and self-absorbed and made terrible choices. And I was witness to it all.

But she was the only Mother I knew and despite not being a very good one, I loved her of course and needed her. So, her leaving us was traumatic.

I remember at one point in the session as Sienna talked, I had a sudden urge to slide into the foetal position. I already had me feet up underneath me and was hugging an oversized cushion but suddenly I wanted to lie my head down. Away from this subject. I resisted though.

The whole session felt a bit lacking. I was missing Sienna’s usual energy. And even though we were talking about therapy topics, it felt like Sienna wasn’t there so much.  I didn’t feel so contained and so it felt like we were picking at a painful scab but I was not getting any relief from it. It didn’t feel like there was much processing going on. Just reliving painful memories.

It’s hard to explain it. Because Sienna was empathic, and she did track me, she did her job. But not in the same way, not in a way that made me feel relief to get these memories out, not in a way that made any of it feel held.

I can only put it down to her feeling unwell and not having the same energy levels.

I thought to myself in the session how much I’d needed her to be her tonight. That the parts starting to wake up inside, combined with the building fear of her next break, was needing attended to. And I knew from her un-wellness that I had to hold it more for myself. I had to keep hold of it all probably for the rest of this week. I didn’t and still don’t want to hold it for myself. I feel a bit of fear and discomfort and a shaky challenging feeling that I need to try and not lean so hard on her when she’s low on energy.

Yet the very knowledge that I need to try and hold it by myself for longer, stirs up the parts and makes them start to escalate. I’m trying hard to not let that happen. I’m trying to keep it together. I am trying to stay engaged with the adult part of me, stay in the present. So there’s a part of me that needs to stifle the younger parts needs in order to keep feeling within the adult part, which is the safest and easiest place to be.

I say easiest. It’s not easy to stay IN the adult part. It’s not easy to call up that part and get it to take over. It’s very hit and miss whether I am able to. I feel very at the mercy of all the parts, there’s no choice for me as to what part comes out and takes over. I wish there was a choice. I wish I could engage each part as needed, like some sort of super hero who accesses their power when needed.

But when I am in the Adult place, that’s when life is easiest for me. That’s when I can get rest from the psychological war that resides within me most of the time. Being in the adult place is respite and it is also a place where time doesn’t slow down and where everything is mostly okay.

If I allow those young parts to feel, if I allow them to have their say, then I risk being dragged out of my adult rest place, my adult coping place and there’s no guarantee that I’ll be able to get back there. There’s too much risk associated with allowing the young parts to speak right now.

It doesn’t feel good though, to stifle the young parts, to tell them that they can’t come out right now.

A few hours after my session, it occurred to me how grateful I was that Sienna hadn’t cancelled the session. That she probably just wanted to be in bed but she came in to meet her clients. I’m really glad she didn’t cancel yet I also felt bad for her that she knew it wouldn’t have gone down well with my young parts if she’d cancelled.

I text her to say thank you for coming in even though she was unwell, that I appreciated that and that I hoped she’d get a good night’s sleep and feel better tomorrow. She replied to say that she was already in bed. Poor Sienna, she must have been shattered if she went home and straight to bed.

She thanked me for caring.

That sentiment jarred with me. Thanking me for caring…. Does she think I normally don’t care about her wellbeing?

I think I know that maybe what she meant was “ Thank you for that caring text” or something.

But it did make me wonder… is me caring about her and her needs or wellbeing really news to her? Does she deep down think that I only love and care about her in context to her being well enough to look after me? That any love and care I have for her is linked to that child-like egocentric need for “ mummy to be okay so she can look after me properly?”

I’m not going to lie, of course there’s an element of that.

But I rarely ever get opportunity to care about her as a person or take care of her in some way or express my care and concern for her wellbeing. The relationship is expressly engineered with boundaries to ensure that I never have to consider her needs, I never have to find myself in the position where I feel compelled to take care of her. The boundaries keep me away from her in so many ways.

This relationship is engineered to be “ all about me.” She is the caretaker and I am the ego-centric child. She gives, I take. Everything about our relationship is about me and my needs. And there’s this unsaid but palpable boundary that she as a real person with needs, is off limits to me.

But as a result of that dynamic, does she (maybe unconsciously)  think that because I come into sessions and even though she’s unwell or tired, I still speak all about me, that it’s because I don’t care? That my priority is only me?

Because it really isn’t the case. I am not selfish, and actually, my immediate reaction is to want to care-take. I want to make her feel better. I want to make her cups of tea and lemon. I want to go buy her super soft tissues and lend her my air purifier and essential oils and I want to tuck her into bed and put the light out and give her rest.

I’ve found myself feeling slightly annoyed that I am not scheduled in for another session this week, because if I was, then I’d take her in some fresh lemons and limes for her hot water. I find myself wanting to take her something to help and to show my care.

I “ignore” her obvious un-wellness in sessions because that’s how the relationship is set up, that is what the boundaries say. There isn’t much space to show her my care and that’s hard for me. Sometimes it would be nice to be able to give a little bit back. Sienna does so much for me and I would hate to think that she thinks I never consider or care about how she is feeling.

I know I’m probably way overthinking her comment of “ Thank you for caring.”

But it seems important. My reaction to that statement, the mild hurt and surprise that she even had to thank me for that? Of course I care, I always care. It’s just that there’s not much room to show her that within the dynamics of the therapy relationship.

 

 

 

 

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20 thoughts on “When your therapist is unwell.

  1. plf1990 says:

    The therapy relationship is so painful sometimes because of these imbalances in it.

    I am 100% sure that she didnt mean that you don’t care the rest of the time, but actually more that she feels you DO care. It was very sweet of you to text her and her response was acknowledging that. I can definitely understand how you read into that text though.

    I had a similar struggle when T had a bereavement. How do you support someone who is clearly hurting and yet knows that her emotions aren’t for you to see? I found it really hard to know whether to even ask if she was okay… clearly she wasn’t but she wouldn’t tell me that, would she? In the end I took her a tiny potted daffodil plant. It helped me to show her that I care. I think your ideas are really thoughtful and lovely. You’re a really kind person xx

    • Sirena says:

      It is painful. It sometimes feels like it can’t be a full relationship when it’s so one-sided. How DO you show you care, when technically you’re not supposed to?
      I know her reply wasn’t meant in the way I read it, but I guess it made me wonder if she knows that I do care about her in general and not just in her ability to take care of my needs?

      • plf1990 says:

        It’s the sort of thing that might be good to bring up with her in session. Say it to her exactly as you’ve just said it here. I am sure she will reassure you that she knows you’re a wonderful person and that you care about her xx

  2. manyofus1980 says:

    I feels awful when our therapist is unwell. Like you I really do care, but she says its ok I dont need to look out for her but I want to anyway. I hope Sienna will start to feel better soon, maybe you can draw her a picture or take a card in to her next time. xx

      • manyofus1980 says:

        You can always say to her that this is what you were doing on your scheduled session time you know the schedule second session that you normally have you could make the car then and tell her that you were thinking of her and hoping she feels better

  3. dangerousvoyager says:

    I’m positive Sienna recognises that times like this are extra hard for you, dealing with the feelings of loss around her possibly not being there if she is ill. For some people in that situation it could be hard to feel as if they have enough left over after their own needs were met, to show care for the person that is their caregiver, or they might only be able to do it with feelings of obligation or guilt. You are able to do that spontaneously and from a place of love. I think Sienna is acknowledging how special that is and how special you are.

  4. twinkletoes2017 says:

    Ah this is lovely (and hard for you at the same time). I think that you did really well. My T has had a cold quite a few times but not to the level that you say Sienna has, something about T being poorly freaks me outttttt so I think you did really well. The fact that you acknowledge the different feelings – needing and wanting your normal, special, attuned connection and also wanting to look after her and make sure she knows that you care.

    I totally get that you want to show her you care back – 100%. It is so hard isn’t it because they have to make sure we aren’t trying to look after them and their needs because of obvious therapy-related reasons, but we are all only human at the end of it, and life isn’t that one-sided really so of course you want to show her you care. Such a tough one.

    I’ve brought T a present which I don’t know if I’m “allowed” to give her and I think it is for a similar reason – I want to show her that I care about her and I think about her… I am sure both my T and Sienna know this already, but surely we are human wanting to make sure, right? xx

    • Sirena says:

      Sorry, I’m just seeing this comment!
      Yes we are just human and part of the joy of relationships is the reciprocating of love and care. I think it’s just important to experience yourself wanting to give love and care in a relationship as it is to sit back and receive it.

  5. Lauren says:

    I think I’d react the same way based on the wording, but there’s probably boundary related reasons for her choice of words.

    I suppose her being unwell is the only time you would get an opportunity to show you care, because whilst she could not talk about it, a lot of the time sickness is hard to hide. But then if you’ve observed the boundaries then you’ve also perhaps not got that chance to say anything. I would totally tell her, it’s clearly important to you that she knows how you feel x

      • Lauren says:

        Well…if you and I were texting as mates I think I’d text back something a bit warmer like “no worries my lovely, you’re worth it! I wanted to be there for you, I hope you don’t catch my germs haha” , but boundaries say she probably isn’t ‘allowed’ to show that level of affection? In case it muddies the waters, let’s a more personal part of her into the mix that she has to keep to herself to make sure therapy is focused on you? It seemed like she was being reserved and so remained factual, she appreciated that you cared about her (even though you don’t have to) and wanted you to know that

      • Sirena says:

        Ah, yes. That makes sense but also makes me angry, the ludicrous boundaries. It feels like they are always in control of just how much affection is allowed in. Sometimes they say things that aren’t strictly allowed to convey their affection and care because they just feel it and want us to know…yet when we do it, it’s all about the boundaries, you know?

      • Lauren says:

        Yeah it sucks, much like the typical parent child relationship I suppose, not being allowed chocolate ever but all of a sudden mum decided she was gonna cave so now we’re allowed some, but won’t get any if we ask tomorrow. Inconsistent. But isn’t it so she doesn’t get comfortable? because that risks complacency, which would inevitably screw up her ability to be the container for you

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